Life wants to be; life doesn’t always want to be much; life from time to time
goes extinct…. Life goes on.
—Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
I have to write everything down while I still remember.
Dispatch called at 3 a.m. A hospital in Monterey. Insurance had sent a car.
I sat on the porch in the dark, reading the patient’s file. Erik Hagestad. A marine biologist and diver, a scientist at the research institute. He’d brushed against deepwater coral. The abrasions were severe. Antibiotic noncompliance led to sepsis. Headlights swept over me. My ride.
The driver had a serene soul. As he drove, he was thinking of his wife and daughters. Not words, just images. Very specific. The little one grinning, having lost a tooth. His wife’s hands forming masa into tortillas. It made for a peaceful drive.
In Monterey the sky was lighter. The air smelled of cypress and the sea. I tipped the driver $2,500. It was all I had on me. Nurse Devon Jagler met me in the lobby. She walked me to palliative care. A man stood outside the patient’s room. He was weeping. The nurse introduced him. Somebody Smith. Milton?
“Are you the husband?” I asked. Continue reading
“Why’s it matter? Why’s it matter?” Shelda—she calls herself Shelda now that enough years have passed — is yelling and she’s in the living room and she knows better than to yell in the living room, but she’s yelling and she’s yelling, and repeating, “Why’s it matter?” but it’s as much a yell as it is a point-of-fact that she knows (that we all know) can’t be taken as fact if it ends in a period, so she makes it look like a question—it’s that same loud spoken yell the desperate do at the last minute, or no , it’s that sudden fact that dresses for the occasion, always in season, or is the—
“Shut up, Curtis.” From Shelda.
“I’m not talking to you.” From Curtis.
“Goddamn, he shit on the floor. He shit on the rug. Our father shit on the rug in the goddamn living room.” This is Denise talking.
And he had. Continue reading
In June 1960 my dad and I went tire-kicking with Smitty over at the A-1 used car lot on Highway 99, trying to find me my first car.
The right car.
We went on Sunday, when the Seattle Rainiers were on the road and there were only church shows on TV. In the Sunday paper A-1 had advertised a 1953 Mercury V-8, a Ford Motor Company car, a two-door hardtop convertible. I thought that a hardtop convertible had a wicked look.
My dad spotted a car he liked: a brown, 1952 Chevy, four-door sedan with a straight-six engine and posts between the side windows. The Chevy was a turkey car to me.
“You’ll choose your own car, Mitchell,” my dad said, “but General Motors cars beat the hell out of any Ford car.” My dad always called me Mitchell, never Mitch. My dad always bought General Motors cars.
I wasn’t blind; the Mercury needed work. The paint job was beaten up, the color like a banana that had been dropped in the dust.
“It looks like it’s been peed on, Zeigler,” Smitty said. “Gonna need paint.” Continue reading
In the sixties, the Palace Hotel resembled a castle with Victorian-era decor and intimidating furnishings. The green velvet chairs with ornately carved arms in Lila’s bedroom seemed too formal to sit in. The satin bedcovers, monogrammed with a large, flowery PH, were so heavy she dreamed of drowning the first few nights of vacation. The only thing she liked was the extra-long bathtub in which she floated every afternoon, and the huge towels warmed by their special holder. She lingered, wrapped in one of those towels, as long as possible before dressing for the ritual, four-course dinners in the hotel dining room.
Lila hated the inevitable tension at meals regarding whatever dress her mother picked out for her. Clothes and manners were Grandmother Jacqui’s favorite topic. The inadequacy of Lila’s wardrobe was Jacqui’s frequent target. It allowed her to imply that Lila’s mother lacked the taste and sophistication to be a proper member of the Taylor family.
Back in the States, Lila’s grandparents insisted their grandchildren join them every Sunday for the country club brunch without their parents. Both Lila and her brother, Tad, were thus expected to dress appropriately. One recent Sunday, when Jacqui eyed Lila’s new yellow culotte dress and said, “Doesn’t your mother know how to dress a young lady?” Lila exclaimed, “Leave my mother alone!” Startled by her own anger, she became immediately self-conscious when she realized club members were discreetly eyeing them. Continue reading
Eliza said once that she couldn’t imagine not being in love with me. Seems her imagination was faulty, though, because now, not only is she not in love with me any more, she doesn’t return my calls, my emails, my letters. I’m not sure what would happen if we ran into each other by accident. I’m guessing she’d force a smile, stop for a minute and talk, then frown and say she was late for something. But I’ve been wrong about her so many times. It’s possible she’d just purse her lips, tighten her shoulders, look away from me, and keep on walking.
When she said that, we were in her apartment, a shabby little cave in the Sunset District of San Francisco. This was a year ago, six months before we broke up. November. We’d just gotten back from a camping trip to Yosemite, and she was sick. She’d gotten laid off. She had student loans the size of Everest. The apartment was freezing, with only a time bomb of a space heater to warm it up. Mice had chewed holes in everything chewable and left miniature turds all over. Her books, her clothes, her papers, her CDs were scattered around like fallen leaves. She hated the apartment, was desperately ashamed of it. But we were snuggled in her bed under two quilts, our clothes still damp from Yosemite snow, completely lost in each other. Her skin was hot with fever, and she couldn’t stop coughing. She wanted to make love.
And she said that. She couldn’t imagine not being in love with me. I guess at the time I was the only thing going right in her life. As for my life—maybe she wasn’t the only thing going right, but she was the only one that mattered. Continue reading
“Mexicans have it easy. They just have to cross the northern border. We Central Americans have to cross Mexico.”
Florencio chuckles and lifts his left nub, his casualty from riding La Bestia, the freight train that runs across the southern border into Mexico and toward the U.S. Mexican border.
Florencio is Guatemalan. He has two young sons that accompanied him on the journey to Mexico. Robín is fourteen. Everyone calls him Leonito, the little lion. As a baby he used to growl in his sleep like a wildcat. Davíd is twelve. He is a head taller than his older brother, and wears a faded blue New York Mets hat every day over his mess of black curls. The boys are asleep between their father’s legs, propped up against each other for extra support to keep from rolling over the sides of La Bestia as it makes sharp, winding turns through the trees.
“¡La rama, la rama, la rama!” Continue reading
Sometimes I see scenes from my life like a long, disjointed movie on which the credits should have rolled hours ago. But it just keeps going, at least for now. Still, my lifetime, like the life cycles of the ash trees in my backyard, is finite. My trees, although a year or two younger than I am, are at the end of their life cycles, according to an arborist who came out to determine why they looked so poorly this fall. He recommends cutting them down and replacing them with young catalpa trees, but I am torn. It will take years for the new trees to provide the shade the old ones do now, and I don’t want to leave my son John, who will inherit this house, with the cost and worry of taking down the ash trees. The trees are living beings but not sentient, as far as I know, so I assume they have no sense of their impending end of days.
Damn those trees. Until this fall I always took them—and their shade—for granted. I even planted a garden of shade-loving plants beneath the shelter created by the giant canopy of the tree on the north side of the house. But then I believed Paul, my third husband and the love of my life, would live forever. He certainly seemed invincible. In his sixties he had low blood pressure, even lower cholesterol, and the sex drive of a teenager. He shoveled snow, raked leaves, kept the yard weeded, and built every stick of furniture in our house—right up till he developed a pain in his right upper abdominal cavity in the spring of 2014. He went to the doctor in July, spent the summer months undergoing tests, was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in late October, and died in the predawn darkness of November 7, 2014. It happened too fast for me to comprehend. Continue reading
She is a Meat-Eating Carousel
children love riding them i am part of the game too
but i’m trying to be a bit more civil
i have a megalodon jaw but i only ever touch potato
we are devices that rotate like the hands of a clock
its face only as wide as earth i wonder if i will live long enough
to survive Continue reading
“Four fours,” Zoe says softly, her voice insinuating that she’s lying. This is one of the problems with playing liar’s poker with Zoe; she always sounds like she’s making things up. She even looks like an actress, leaning on her elbow in her pink gingham halter and culottes, her eyes shrouded in sunglasses although the sun is setting.
Annie sighs. It’s still hot, and the humidity is so dense that the oleanders’ leaves are beaded with moisture. Annie holds her dollar bill hard against her chest. She knows the numbers and letters on the bill without looking. Zoe could be trying to peek, even though she has her head turned casually.
“Four fours. Are you asleep?”
Annie snores in response.
“Little red pig,” Zoe says, slapping at her. Zoe is probably faking. Or maybe she has two fours and assumes Annie has two. Annie does have two fours, and Zoe could know. Even without cheating. Continue reading